While we typically associate holiday craziness with the month of December, the festivities do not end there. For Christians throughout Spain and Latin America, as well as many with Hispanic and Latinx heritage all over the world, December 25th is merely the start of the Christmas holiday. The celebrations on Three Kings’ Day can rival those of Christmas and they don’t take place until the beginning of January.
When is Three Kings’ Day?
The holiday takes place on January 6th, which also marks the 12th day of Christmas.
What are the holiday’s origins?
It honors the arrival of the Three Kings to the manger where Jesus was born. They came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Also known as the Three Wise Men or Magi, they followed the Star of Bethlehem to pay homage to newly born Jesus.
Why did the kings bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
First, the gold represented Jesus’ role as a “king of kings”. Next, people often burned frankincense in churches, so it had religious connotations. Finally, myrrh, which was used in embalming and death traditions, symbolized Jesus’ future sacrifice and death.
What do people typically do?
Today, many children leave out their shoes the night before Three Kings’ Day to receive gifts. People occasionally leave out offerings of grass or salt for the camels that the kings are riding, similar to the tradition of leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus. The high level of fanfare surrounding the holiday rivals even Christmas celebrations. For example, you can see parades and performances throughout Mexico and other Latin American countries.
What foods do people eat?
A traditional treat is rosca de reyes or Three Kings’ Bread. Shaped in a circle or oval with an empty center like a crown, rosca de reyes is made with sweet dough. Occasionally, there are additions of orange, fruits, or icing on top. In some cultures, a tiny baby toy is hidden in the cake.
In many Orthodox, Anglican, Eastern, and Roman Catholic traditions people also celebrate January 6th as the religious holiday of Epiphany. You won’t find the same level of celebration as Three Kings’ Day in Spanish speaking communities though.
Three Kings’ Day remains an exciting and festive part of the holiday season all over the world. So don’t worry about letting your celebrations continue a little later this year!